Mitch Easter: ‘The Fifth Member of The dB’s’
Played a Key Role In Early Indie Rock History
|Read Mick's feature to learn why Mitch has been |
nicknamed "the fifth member" of The dB's
|Mitch has remained active in |
music as an in-demand producer
BY MICK DILLINGHAM
NOTE from Rob: I'm awed that Mick, a music blogger and contributor to the legendary Bucketfull of Brains music mag, is making this contribution to The dB’s Repercussion. Mick quotes extensively from interviews with Mitch he conducted some years ago for a B.O.B. feature that didn’t get published (he also provided several of the photos). Even if you know a lot of the facts of Mitch’s connections to The dB’s, you’ll probably learn stuff you didn’t know before by reading this piece. Have a look at one of Mick's (aka Jay’s) cool blogs: http://artintodust.blogspot.com/
Peter Holsapple says legendary North Carolina musician and producer Mitch Easter is the coolest guy around, and in this assertion he is probably right.
|Rock 'n' Roll High School: Reynolds in Winston-Salem, NC |
L-R: Chris Stamey, Ted Lyons, Will Rigby, Mitch Easter,
Faye Hunter, Peter Holsapple, Gene Holder
Peter and Chris have been friends with Mitch since early school days and though, until the new album, Mitch has had no direct involvement with the dB’s recorded output, he has often sat in and played live with them from the earliest days in New York City in the late seventies right up to this year. And of course prior to The dB’s, they were in various local bands together.
|Mitch playing with The dB's at Cat's Cradle (probably early 1980s)|
|What else does he need? |
A young Mitch with the hair, the guitar, the clothes
|Peter H, getting an early start in rock|
When that second line up fell apart, Mitch and Locke decided to form a new band. Locke was adamant that they kept the name Rittenhouse Square to capitalise on the success they had already gained. Mitch wasn’t certain just what success Locke was talking about, but acquiesced because he was also adamant about something. That was they should also be doing original material not just covers. When Locke agreed they asked Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple to join on bass and guitar respectively. Peter had previously been playing in Wazoo, a covers band featuring a really good vocalist Bob Northcott and one Will Rigby on drums.
Mitch: “It was promising at first, we had the talented and fun Peter Holsapple along, and since we were all bad singers, we all sang which was a first for me and Chris, at least. Plus, there was that motherlode of Wishbone Ash songs to work up, what with our guitar-harmony capability and all. I believe it was Ash's ‘Error of My Ways’ that made us cut that out. After that we started writing songs, which were just horrible.” Live they were still doing stuff like Humble Pie, The Move’s “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” and “Teenage Head” by the Flamin’ Groovies.
|Bobby Locke, drummer|
They recorded six tracks during a midnight to dawn session down at Crescent City Sound in Greensboro, NC with the optimistic intention of capturing the heavy but melodic sound of Message From the Country era Move. Mitch had been a big Move fan from when Chris Stamey had first played him Shazam in 1970. Mitch wrote four of the songs and Peter two. They were too young and inexperienced to really pull it off ultimately, but they certainly gave it a go.
|The album they're trying to forget!|
|Rhythm Method, with Gene Holder on bass (lower left)|
|A truly bitchin' Little Diesel T-shirt|
|Mitch (drums) & Chris Stamey |
Teens run amuck in the
basement with a 4-track recorder!
|One of several iterations of Little Diesel (Will Rigby, drums)|
By the summer of ‘75, Peter Holsapple had fallen in love and, distracted, lost interest in playing music altogether. Chris Stamey came in on bass, Mitch on guitar and a second drummer Chris Chamis completed what now became The Little Diesel Big Band, who recorded a bunch of song at the NC School of Arts and played a handful of shows before finally drifting apart.
|Pedestrians, with Chris and Mitch |
All washed up...
Mitch: “What had happened, to give you the exact details, is that the first time the group played I was playing with them and it was this really, funny, disastrous show. Things happened like Chris was playing an acoustic guitar and it exploded while he was playing it — the head just fell off. It was like his world debut, as a star, the first time he'd had his own group where he was singing and everything and all those things going wrong really upset him and at the end of the show everyone was really dispirited. We didn't get back together for awhile and then Chris was actually afraid to ask me to play with him anymore because he just thought that I wouldn't do it after that night. But the fact was I didn't really care one way or the other.”
|L-R: Will, Mitch, Chris, and, um ... the other Sneakers|
photo by Rebecca Johnson, Durham, NC 1976
|Sneakers - the 6-track debut EP|
|Sneakers were here, once.|
|Hair today: Mitch in NYC, '76|
That lineup played at most ten times and then in ‘77, Stamey left college in North Carolina and upped and moved to New York to attend university there. That, for all intent and purposes, was the end of the band. Meanwhile back in Chapel Hill, Mitch and Peter Holsapple had started doing some tapes up in Mitch’s bedroom together, very much as he and Stamey had a couple of years before. Back when the first Sneakers record had come out, Kim Fowley had discovered that they had got some press and he had started calling up Mitch and Chris.
|Kim Fowley: big talker...|
The two guys they had called up were Robert Keely, who had played bass with The Sneakers, and Chris Chamis who they had played with in The Little Diesel Big Band. Keely and Chamis were at that point in a band Aliens with Tommy Eschelman from Little Diesel. They sent the pictures off, heard nothing more from Fowley, but the four of them decided to start practising together. With an eye to the new wave and punk scene now breaking out all over America by the fall of ’77, they turned up the guitars and became H-Bombs. By that time the live music scene in the area, known as The Triangle, was starting to stir. They played street festivals, on campus and at venues such as The Mad Hatter and the Cambridge Inn to the usual half-hearted crowds, who by then were starting to catch the punk bug and were not quite sure of what to make of the band.
|H-Bombs: Peter, ctr. left & Mitch, ctr. right|
|H-Bombs: more 'zines than gigs|
|H-Bombs play Cat's Cradle: Robert Keely, Peter & Chris|
|Alex Chilton: hands-off music "producer"|
|The mighta been "H-Bombs" EP|
|Trod Nossel studio, as it may have looked in '78|
|Sneakers' 2nd release: pretty dang cool|
|Rear of In the Red mini LP|
H-Bombs never released a record. There was announcement of an EP with double lead in grooves (an idea based on one of the Monty Python albums that had just that gimmick) in the local press. Each side had two lots of two tracks (eight tracks in all), which you could play only by where the needle started. But the whole thing was an elaborate hoax cooked up by the band and local writer Fred Mills. Will Rigby succeeded in getting a review of this imaginary record into The Daily Tarheel campus newspaper. The editor failed to notice that it was in fact a review Rigby had written for the Sneakers’ EP (for the self-same publication) two years before, with just the names and a few details changed.
In 1980, The dB’s were by then sorting out a proper record deal and in the meantime working on tracks for their first album, mostly recording in New York and they turned up to mix three songs at Mitch’s recently opened Drive-In Studio with Don Dixon and music writer Alan Betrock. Mitch was busy getting the studio ready when they arrived, so he left them to it. The hole in the wall for the glass between the control room and the live room hadn't been made yet. So while Chris Stamey, Alan Betrock and Don Dixon were in the control room, Gene Holder and Mitch were in the garage on the other side of the wall with a power saw for cutting a hole for the window, without really considering what was going on the other side. There was this great moment when they finally got all the way round and the plaster fell out with a earth shaking crash to reveal through the new hole the startled faces of those mixing the tracks.
|Peter, Chris & Mitch in the UK, 1981|
Peter Holsapple had met guitarist Kimberley Rew when the Soft Boys had played The Eighties Club in New York the previous August. And when they arrived in England they gave him a call. The Soft Boys had split by then and Rew was going to record a single, “My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long” that weekend down at Advision Studios in London. At that same time, The dB’s were in town to appear on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" (UK music television show). Rew asked the band if they would like to produce and back him on the record, and Mitch went along too. Gene Holder and Mitch actually tossed a coin to see who would play bass and who would produce. Gene won, and Mitch played bass and added backing vocals to the three tracks recorded.
On February 12th, 1985 Mitch’s band Let’s Active played the first Awareness Benefit concert at Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem along with The dB’s and Chris Stamey. The dB’s line up by this time consisted of Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, Gene Holder, now on guitar and new guy Jeff Beninato (replacing Rick Wagner) on bass. Don Dixon came on for the encore, and afterwards a whole bunch of them went to Drive-In and recorded a version of Z.Z. Top’s "Tush". Faye Hunter left Let’s Active towards the end of 1985 and they had to quickly draft in some old friends to cover the end of the tour.
Mitch told Fred Mills at the time, “We just did a bunch of shows with various past and present dB's on bass. We did two shows with Chris Stamey and that was pretty groovy, one of those was filmed for the IRS 'Cutting Edge' programme on MTV. Then Chris went on tour with the Golden Palominos so we continued with Gene Holder playing bass, which was cool because he doesn't play bass with The dB's, he's now their guitar player [ie, late 1980s]. During those shows we continued our tradition of doing covers designed to offend the audience, like 'Hush', of course it was the Deep Purple version which was a real rouser and ‘Back Of A Car’ by Big Star too. We also tried to do ‘Call Me Animal’ by the MC5 but we were too winded at the end of it. so I don't know if we'll keep doing that one but it sure is a good song.”
|Faye Hunter & others contributed|
|Sneakers - the first compilation|
Mitch played with Chris Stamey’s Big Band (guitarists Jeff Hart and Brent Lambert, drummer John Howe and Mitch on bass) for a few shows in the summer of ’95, and this led to another SXSW appearance.
|Site of a legendary show in 1995|
Sneakers returned to the live stage once more in May 2007 when former Let’s Active drummer Rob Ladd’s band The Pressure Boys played their first reunion shows after twenty years at Cat’s Cradle, two benefit shows for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Lead singer John Plymale contacted Mitch and Chris Stamey with the idea that The Sneakers could be the opening act and they happily agreed.